Give him five: Jaramillo has ideas for Byrd
Cubs hitting coach believes center fielder is perfect No. 5 hitter
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are getting more than a center fielder in Marlon Byrd, according to Rudy Jaramillo.
They now have a perfect No. 5 hitter. They have someone who will be a leader in the clubhouse. And, Byrd is a good salesman for Jaramillo's approach.
Jaramillo was Byrd's hitting coach the last three seasons in Texas and the two are now reunited as members of the Cubs. Jaramillo was named the team's new hitting coach in October while Byrd signed a three-year contract on Thursday.
"[Byrd] told me at the end of the season, 'I want to go where you're going,'" Jaramillo said Friday.
There's good reason. In four seasons with Philadelphia, Byrd hit .271 with a .332 on-base percentage and .377 slugging percentage. In two years with Washington, he hit .245 with a .318 OBP and .366 slugging percentage. The last three seasons in Texas with Jaramillo, Byrd has hit .295 with a .352 OBP and .468 slugging percentage.
Byrd, 32, is coming off his best year in which he set personal highs in hits (155), home runs (20), doubles (43), RBIs (89), and games played (146).
"He made a lot of adjustments," Jaramillo said. "Every year, he got better. I'm real excited about him coming over there. He brings a lot of energy and leadership. He wants to win. Those are things that are going to help me out. I talked to him the other day and I told him we've got our work cut out for us."
Byrd will be a good influence in the clubhouse and help promote what Jaramillo is trying to do with the team.
"You know what this will do is get my system out a little quicker and faster," Jaramillo said. "Marlon is a good teacher. I want hitters talking to one another. He provided that for us in Texas. He knew his swing and sometimes he was good at recognizing stuff that other people were doing. I wanted those guys to help each other and talk and coach each other, too."
Byrd has primarily played center and credits five-time Gold Glove winner Gary Pettis with helping him improve on defense. Cubs fans will see that, Jaramillo said.
"I don't know how much people saw him play center field but I guarantee he was one of the top two or three center fielders in the American League," Jaramillo said of Byrd. "Our park was a big park with big gaps and he was outstanding covering those gaps. He threw the ball well and accurately. It's what he brings to the club -- his energy, he's always working hard and playing hard. It's going to be good."
Jaramillo has been campaigning for Byrd to join the Cubs since the team's organizational meetings in November, and it wasn't just because of the vacancy in center field.
"I just know him as a person," Jaramillo said.
The two do have some unfinished work to do. Byrd's home vs. road numbers show that he does like home cooking. His average was practically the same -- .282 at home compared to .285 on the road -- but he hit 14 homers and 25 doubles with a .538 slugging percentage in Texas. On the road, he hit six homers, 18 doubles and had a .419 slugging percentage. Byrd said he liked being near his wife and family.
"A lot of times it is [the reason]," Jaramillo said. "They have that comfort level at home. I think if you look at a lot of clubs -- take the Rockies with [Matt] Holliday. They were saying the same thing about him. It's something we can work on."
With the addition of Byrd, the Cubs will once again be very right-handed in the lineup. Kosuke Fukudome and Mike Fontenot are the only left-handed hitters projected for the starting lineup. Byrd, though, batted .300 against right-handers and .244 against lefties.
"The Cubs wanted some left-handed bats, but if we can hit right-handers, what difference does it make?" Jaramillo said. "Generally, a lot of right-handers have a little trouble with left-handers because they want to go get [the ball]. When the ball's coming from your side, kind of behind you, where you don't go get it, mentally you stay back. So from the left, it's coming out and into you, and they want to go get it and that's when you get in trouble."
Byrd sounded ready to go on Thursday after signing his new deal. Jaramillo has been eager to get to work since he signed in October.
"It won't be long," Jaramillo said. "We'll get it done."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.